|Image Credit: Sarah Moffett|
I look at the reading I have done the past few weeks. Andrew Jackson's wonderful The Wisdom of the Ages, then Sue Minns' Soulmates, and now Veronika Decides to Die. Why did I pick these books now? At this time of my life? What are they telling me? See the order of the signs again? Nothing happens by chance.
Veronika is a simple fable. But it contains all of Coelho's wisdom. I once had the pleasure of writing to him, and receiving a reply. Even now, he remains accessible through his blog. Veronika, a young 24-year old woman, who has 'everything' going for her, decides to take sleeping pills. She doesn't die, but ends up in Villette, an institution for the 'mad.' She is told she has just a few days to live because the pills damage her heart. And Veronika learns through her interactions with the madness in Villette what it is to live. Simple enough isn't it? Coelho uses sparse, almost bland prose to convey startling wisdom - who are the mad? What is madness? And how do we live life?
There is a poignant chapter when Veronika wakes up from her suicide attempt, and wonders what her life should be. I read it almost as a personal manifesto. Sample these lines:
My mother, who must be out of her mind with worry over my suicide attempt, will recover from the shock and will keep asking me what I'm going to do with my life, why I'm not the same as everyone else, things really aren't as complicated as I think they are.
One day, I'll get tired of hearing her constantly repeating the same things, and to please her I'll marry a man whom I oblige myself to love.For a while, man and woman dream of dreams. Then the rust sets in. And then fresh dreams:
When the marriage is just about to fall apart, I'll get pregnant. We'll have a child, feel closer to each other for a while, and then the situation will go back to what it was before.
She imagines her life move on:
I'll tell everyone that the children are my reason for living, when in reality my life is their reason for living. People will always consider us a happy couple, and no one will know how much solitude, bitterness and resignation lies beneath the surface happiness.
After that, it's a matter of waiting for the children to grow up....One fine day, I'll reach the conclusion that that's what life is like, there's no point worrying about it, nothing will change. And I'll accept it.
This is the life Veronika feels she is condemned to. But in Villette, she discovers her body, her self, her soul. Knowing she has so few days to live, she fights for her life. She knows she had always spent her life waiting for something - how many of us haven't? She does things now because "she had never done anything mad." Looking on her life she thought of how she had done her best to avoid conflict, she was contented "but she didn't struggle and hence she didn't grow." In the freedom of Vilette where you act different because you are thought to be mad, she decides to be 'mad.' She slaps a man who insults her, she who had avoided conflict all her life, she plays the piano like she has never before, she feels her soul. She challenges the rules she has grown up with.
"Stay mad, but behave like normal people. Run the risk of being different, but learn to do so without attracting attention.She must learn to care less about annoying others."
And for personal reasons this quote:
It took me three years to understand that life was pushing me in a direction I didn't want to go in.
Verdict : Simple truths that can change your life.